June 19, 2024
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Parshat Bamidbar

Upon analyzing this week’s haftarah from sefer Hoshea, we would find ourselves somewhat limited in understanding the complete message of the Navi if we fail to take a look back to the previous chapter. It is there that Hashem tells the prophet to take a wayward woman as his wife (symbolic of the nation that was wayward in their faithfulness to God), and to give his future children names that would reflect the punishments that await Israel. In the final pasuk before the opening of our haftarah, Hashem tells Hoshea to name his youngest son “lo ami—not my nation”—an expression of God’s abandonment of His people.

And yet, immediately following these troublesome prophecies, Hoshea starts our haftarah reading with the words: “The number of Israel will be as the sand of the sea that cannot be measured nor counted, and, instead of being said of them, ‘You are not My nation,’ it will be said of them, ‘They are the children of the living God.’” However, this new chapter does not begin a new nevuah but continues that of the first perek! Hoshea is telling the people that the terrible prophecy of Hashem’s abandonment of Israel of which he spoke, is but a temporary one.

How beautifully does Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch translate the haftarah’s opening words (the obvious connection to the “number” of Israelites counted in the parsha) as, “However, the number of Israel will become (as important) as the sand … ” and, by doing so, he clearly explains how the haftarah is meant to “soften” the harsh prophecy found in the first chapter and to give hope for the future to the people.

But, if so, the message that follows is quite puzzling. There, Hoshea returns to the original theme—that of Israel being a wayward “wife” to Hashem, and, as a result, would suffer fitting punishments for their faithlessness. “Argue with your ‘mother,’ God says, “I will have no compassion for her children,” adding, “I will cancel her joy, her festivals … and lay waste to her vines and vineyards … ”—Are these the words of comfort, words meant to soften the harsh prophecy or give the nation hope as Rav Hirsch contends? Certainly not!

And yet, the final verses of our haftarah are indeed comforting ones, as they promise God’s return to His people and, upon His return to His “wife” (nation), they will refer to Him “husband.” The description of Israel’s relationship with God as being one of a wife to her husband is purposely continued through the pesukim of punishment as well to underscore that, as upset the “Husband” might be with his “wife,” He could never abandon her.

That message is driven home in the very last verses of the haftarah, words that one recites upon winding the tefillin straps around the fingers—a betrothal “ring” in a sense: “And I will betroth you unto Me forever … ”

As a final note, I feel compelled to share with you the words of HaRav Soloveitchik commenting on this closing message: “Marriage is not merely a civil institution pertaining to property and pleasure by two individuals starved for love and a convenient life … It is rather a covenantal community which is nurtured by the awareness of absolute belonging to each other. Married life is an existence in fellowship, togetherness. In it, a person finds completeness and existential fulfillment.

Three days ago, when we celebrated the miraculous liberation of our holy city Ir HaKodesh, we also recognized that we still remain the target of antisemitic demonstrations that threaten our security throughout the world. These rallies—fueled by falsehoods and hatred—might cause us to wonder whether our ideal ‘marriage’ to the Holy One has, once again, reverted that of Hoshea’s era, of the unfaithful wife.”

But the rav’s approach to the message of Amos reminds us that, even during this difficult time, Hashem remains committed to His faithful “wife” and will stand by her side! As he declared:

“Marriage … distinguishes itself by a deep sense of loyalty and faith … And when the prophet Hoshea portrays the eternal bond between God and Israel in (these) glowing ecstatic words, he exclaims that Israel is similarly betrothed to God in faith.”

A betrothal that will never be broken!


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.

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